German General Erwin Rommel, famed as the Desert Fox for his exploits in North Africa, used the Chateau de Bernaville in Normandy as his headquarters when Hitler charged him with defending the French beaches against the expected Allied invasion. A famous photograph taken in May 1944, a few weeks before the Allied D-Day landings, depicts Rommel descending the steps of the chateau. I’ve always wondered what thoughts were going through Rommel’s mind in the photograph, as his expression appears to be somewhere between puzzlement and amusement.
Encouraged by reports of bad weather that should've made crossing the English Channel a virtual impossibility, Rommel decided to travel home to Herrlingen, Germany, to visit his wife for her birthday, which fell on June 6, 1944. When the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy that morning, the Chateau de Bernaville was empty of its master. Such are the small details that wield influence on history.
While on a museum tour of Normandy in 2014, I viewed the steps leading out of the chateau that Rommel descended 70 years before.
"No matter one’s age, travel is a unique and exciting educational experience. In my work, I have had the opportunity to reflect on history, events, and people in the places where they experienced life. Through the viewfinder, we can not only find history and perspective, but create memory, and evoke our evergreen past."
– Keith Huxen, PhD, Senior Director of Research and History, The National WWII Museum
Keith is the former Senior Director of Research and History in the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy at The National WWII Museum.